Moton School neighborhood

One trip to one school opened a can of worms larger than one could imagine. First “Leigh took a trip to Moton”: and what she saw there was disturbing enough to make “Sarah take a trip”:

This one begs more questions than would seem possible in an hour long RSD planning process. Why where the Neighbors in this area allowed to come back? Why didn’t the Federal government come in with a real just and equitable buy out plan? Why is this School still filled with furniture and paperwork and most likely sensitive records?

By the way the nickname for this area in the 40s was

“Dantes Inferno”:

“From the Senate Commitee”:

New Orleans Agriculture Street Landfill Community

Dozens of toxic time bombs along Louisiana’s Mississippi River petrochemical corridor, the 85-mile stretch from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, make the region a major environmental justice battleground. The corridor is commonly referred to as Cancer Alley. Black communities all along the corridor have been fighting against environmental racism and demanding relocation to areas away from polluting facilities. iii

Two largely Black New Orleans subdivisions, Gordon Plaza and Press Park, have special significance in terms of environmental justice and emergency response. Both subdivisions are built on a portion of land that was used as a municipal landfill for more than 50 years. The Agriculture Street Landfill, covering approximately 190 acres, was used as a city dump as early as 1910. Municipal records indicate that after 1950, the landfill was mostly used to discard large solid objects, including trees and lumber, and it was a major source for dumping debris from the very destructive 1965 Hurricane Betsy. It is important to note that the landfill was classified as a solid waste site and not a hazardous waste site.

In 1969, the federal government created a home ownership program to encourage lower income families to purchase their first home. Press Park was the first subsidized housing project of this program in New Orleans. The federal program allowed tenants to apply 30 percent of their monthly rental payments toward the purchase of a family home. In 1987, seventeen years later, the first sale was completed. In 1977, construction began on a second subdivision, Gordon Plaza. This development was planned, controlled, and constructed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO). Gordon Plaza consists of approximately 67 single-family homes.

In 1983, a portion of the Agriculture Street Landfill site was purchased by the Orleans Parish School Board as a site for a school. The fact that this site had previously been used as a municipal dump prompted concerns about the suitability of the site for a school. The school board contracted engineering firms to survey the site and assess it for contamination and hazardous materials. Heavy metals and organics were detected.

Despite the warnings, Moton Elementary School, an $8 million state-of-the-art public school opened with 421 students in 1989. In May 1986, EPA performed a site inspection (SI) in the Agriculture Street Landfill community. Although lead, zinc, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic were found at the site, based on the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) model used at that time, the score of 3 was not high enough to place them on the National Priority List (NPL).

On December 14, 1990, EPA published a revised HRS model in response to the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986. At the request of community leaders, in September 1993, an Expanded Site Inspection (ESI) was conducted. On December 16, 1994, the Agriculture Street Landfill community was placed on the NPL with a new score of 50.

The Agriculture Street Landfill community was home to approximately 900 African American residents. The average family income is $25,000 and the educational level is high school graduate and above. The community pushed for a buy-out of their property and to be relocated. However, this was not the resolution of choice by EPA. A cleanup was ordered at a cost of $20 million, the community buy-out would have cost only $14 million. The actual cleanup began in 1998 and was completed in 2001. iv

The Concerned Citizens of Agriculture Street Landfill filed a class action suit against the City of New Orleans for damages and relocation costs. It took nine years to bring this case to court. The case was still pending before Katrina struck. It is ironic that the environmental damage wrought by Katrina may force the cleanup and relocation of the Agriculture Street Landfill community. But nothing can give them back their health and well being, or replace the family members and friends who might still be with them were it not for the health effects of living on a landfill.

Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led...